Once saved, we need to work out our obedience in practical ways. In Philippians 2, Paul encouraged Christians to serve without complaining or arguing so that their witness would be faultless. They were to shine like bright stars in a dark world. As Alistair Begg walks us through Paul’s instructions, we are reminded that God redeemed us and is working in us. Therefore, we can rejoice, knowing that our labor will not be in vain.
Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.”
Father, in these moments, we pray that your Spirit will be our teacher, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Now, last Sunday evening we looked together at verses 12 and 13 and the principles that are contained there in relationship to the experience of salvation: that we are not to work up our salvation or work for our salvation, but we are to work out our salvation, and are to do so with fear and trembling, recognizing that the power of God energizes us both to create the will and the power to fulfill his purpose.
Now, such principles, then, need to be applied to the warp and woof of life. And Paul, with characteristic wisdom, seems to anticipate the question that would emerge from the mind of the listener or the reader, which would be, “Well, in what kind of areas, Paul, do you have in mind that we should be working out our salvation in this way?” And, indeed, the whole of his letter relates to this, but he comes very purposefully and very pointedly to give these few matters of instruction to these listeners and readers—whom he refers to, in verse 15, as the “children of God.” Not the children of God simply by creation, as is true for every human being, but the children of God by regeneration, those who had come to understand their need of Christ and had laid hold of his great and precious promise of salvation and had been redeemed.
Now, it is to these individuals that he gives instruction as to their behavior. Their obedience needs to be worked out in the most practical of ways. And what I’d like to do in these brief moments is simply draw your attention to five verbs, which are here in these verses. The first verb is the verb “to do.” We’ll turn them into present participles, all of them. In other words, we will add the suffix -ing.
So, the first word then is “doing.” What are we to be doing? Well, whatever we are doing, it is the manner in which it is to be done that is his concern: doing “everything”—or, everything you do is to be done—“without complaining or arguing.” That the obedience, which he has highlighted of the Lord Jesus Christ in verses 5 through 11, to which he has called his readers in verse 12—“As you have always obeyed in my presence, so now in my absence, I would like you to obey”—he says, “Now, let me tell you about the character of your obedience: let it be the glad kind of obedience, not the grudging kind of obedience.” It is possible for us to do the right thing, but to do it in such a spirit that it deprives us of the joy in it and is detrimental to all who are around us.
In the most simple terms, if you have the instruction “Would you please take the garbage down to the end of the driveway for me?” it can be done in such a way that it is a total pain in the neck to everybody. Because it is marked only by moaning and complaining and grudging and carping. And there is another way to take them down to the end of the driveway, and that is glad; it is without complaining; it is thankful for the privilege that our legs work. And we’re glad that there are wheels, if there are, on the bottom of the jolly thing, so we don’t have to simply drag them. We can find something in it that would be a basis for rejoicing.
And it is, for me, one of the sad recollections of my childhood and teenage years, when I finally exasperated my parents to the point of no return and they would say to me, for example, “Would you give me the duster back?” “Would you simply leave the rake alone?” “Would you lay down the spade and get out of my sight? It is far easier for me to do the job myself than to watch your mean-spirited attempt at obedience.”
Now, if that would ever be true—as it is—of our earthly pilgrimage, surely then our heavenly Father would look for us to engage in his service with a spirit of gladness, rather than with a spirit of disputing or complaining or arguing. Now, we could apply this all the way through. The children of God in Exodus were such a sorry group, were they not? I won’t encourage you to turn to it; let me just remind you of this: in Exodus chapter 16… Chapter 15 is the Song of Moses. Miriam his sister is playing the tambourine; they’re having a high old time. Chapter 16—the whole Israelite community sets out to pursue their journey, and finding themselves in the desert, “the whole community grumbled.” And they sat around, and they said things like, “You know it was great in Egypt; we loved it in Egypt. We had pots of meat in Egypt; we’re stuck out here with all this manna and all this quail,” and they grumbled. And in verse 7: “And in the morning,” says Moses and Aaron to the Israelites, “you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us? … He has heard your grumbling against him …. You are not grumbling against us, [you are grumbling] against the Lord …. Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.” Now, I’m not reading the same verse. I’m reading the verses … Every couple of lines he is referring to the fact that these people, who have been redeemed from the bondage of Egypt, who have been set free from all the tyranny and the subjugation, who of all people should be glad and rejoicing, now find themselves with all kinds of things to complain and moan about.
And just when we are tempted to point our fingers at them, we catch ourselves, don’t we? The Bible is so wonderfully practical. Peter says, “I want you to be hospitable to people—practice hospitality,” he says, “ungrudgingly to one another.” That little word “ungrudgingly” shows what a realist Peter was, shows how much he understood human nature. Phillips paraphrases it, “Be hospitable … without secretly wishing you [didn’t have] to be.” It gets to the heart of it.
When Sue and I left these fair shores in ’75 to sail to London, and to life and ministry there, one of the things that happened to us on the ten-day journey was that we met a lot of people, some of whom were coming to Britain just to look around. And we met a Canadian couple, and we said to them, “Oh, if ever you come to Edinburgh, you should look us up.” We were in the full flush of our marriage and in anticipation of our first home and excited about all of this. And I can remember coming home and Sue saying to me, “You know that Canadian couple we met on the ship?” “Yes.” “Well, they’re coming over!” And I said, “They’re what? You mean, they took us up on it? I never meant them to take us up on it! I was just … that was just saying the stuff.” She said, “Hey, hey!” Be hospitable without secretly wishing you didn’t have to be so.
We used to sing a chorus in Scotland. It went like this: “Come leave your house in Grumble Street and move to Sunshine Square.” My father used to totally tick me off, because I’d be doing some menial task with the spirit of disgruntlement, and he’d be singing, “Come leave your house in Grumble Street and move to Sunshine Square.” And I’m going, “You know where you can put Sunshine Square, don’t you?”
Therefore, “my dear friends … doing.” Secondly—and I’ll spend less time—“becoming”—becoming. So that you may become what? “Pure.” You may become “blameless.” One of Paul’s favorite words—he uses it to the Thessalonians: “You are witnesses, and … God is also,” he says, “how holy and righteous and blameless was our behavior.” The word that he uses for “pure” is a word that has to do not so much with our external activity as it has to do with our internal mechanisms. It has to do—or had to do, in the first century—with the use of metals. And it was the word that was used to describe the purity of a metal which had been kept free from alloys which would weaken it. And that is the word he uses here. “As you are doing everything without complaining or arguing, you are becoming pure, you are becoming blameless, the children of God.”
“Living without fault.” Not perfect but not living in such a way that people can constantly point to our faults, constantly point out the gap that exists between our mouths and our actions. Becoming the kind of instruments that God is happy to use, when he tells Timothy that “in a house there are all kinds of vessels—some that are fit for noble use and some that are for ignoble use.” And he says, “If a man cleanses himself from all of these things, then he will be the kind of instrument or vessel that God is happy to pick up and to use.” And all of this, you will note, takes place as we live our lives “in a crooked and depraved generation.” That’s where we live. We haven’t withdrawn from the world. We haven’t shut ourselves away from the world. We’re living in the world, and we want to be like the Lord Jesus Christ.
Doing. Becoming. Shining: “in which you shine like stars in the universe.” Lights shine, by definition; a light that is hidden is pointless. A Christianity whose effect stops at the door of the church building is of little use to anyone. And Paul anticipates that, as these individuals work out their own salvation, they will be the kind who are doing things in this manner—they are becoming all that God desires for them to be, and they are shining.
It may surprise some of you to realize that I’m old enough to remember my milk being delivered by a horse and cart. I could hear the hoofs on the cobbled stones as the milk came down the road. I’m also old enough to remember that the tenement closes of Glasgow were in total darkness until the gas was illumined. And since there was no central facility for illuminating those tenement hallways—which went up four and five stories—in the afternoon darkness, we had to wait for the arrival of an individual. He wore a navy blue uniform and had a hat and carried a stick over his shoulder, and often whistled, I recall—ours did. And he would come into the dark of the tenement and he would take the lit pole and he would attach it to those little Ping-Pong ball–looking things, the elements on the gas lamps. And he would go from corridor to corridor, and as a result of contact with him, all of our darkness became brightness. We loved it when the lamplighter came. That’s the picture.
Out of here, into the darkness of a crooked and depraved generation, into a world that has got nothing sensible to say about sex, to live in the purity and bright shining of faithfulness. Into the emptiness and loneliness of people’s lives, to shine. The picture he actually uses here is that of stars, which shine in the universe. I think probably what is in mind there is the fact that stars were used as navigational aids. People would walk outside, and they would look up, and by means of the stars, they would determine their course. “We are to be like that,” he says to the Philippians, initially. He says, “My anticipation of you is that, in the darkness of the world in which you live, you will become the navigational aids for a world that doesn’t know which way to turn.”
What a tragedy when the church provides only crookedness and faultiness and impurity and darkness and obscurity, when God has redeemed us with an outstretched hand in order that we might be doing and becoming and we might be shining.
And we might be “holding”—“holding out the word of life”—holding out the word of life. This Word, which is “a lamp to [our] feet and a light [to our] path.” It is this that we hold out.
There was a group—and I’ve told you of this group before—they were representative of Campus Crusade for Christ in the late ’60s and early ’70s. They were called the Forerunners. I don’t remember many of their songs, but I do remember one, which went,
Men are striving to find the answers
To the questions that never cease.
They find in life there’s something missing,
And they’re looking for release
And the way to peace.
And then they used to sing,
He is the way,
And without him there’s no going.
And he is the truth,
And without him there’s no knowing.
And he is the life,
And without him there’s no living.
The good news is contained in his Word, and it is therefore his Word that we hold forth. Not in a way that we would use this as a weapon to wound, but that we would use it as a map and as a guide and as food. All of the wounding will be taken care of by the Spirit of God, who takes the Word of God to wound the hearts of men and women. You don’t have to be a wounder, and nor do I. And, indeed, some of our attempts to beat, as it were, the good news into our unsuspecting relatives sets back the very plan and purpose of God. He says, “I just want you to hold it out there. Be a congregation of the Book,” he says. “Be a young man of the Book. Be a woman of the Book.”
And finally, “rejoicing”—rejoicing. He says, “[Then I will be able to] boast on the day of Christ that I [didn’t] run or labor for nothing.” This is a recurring theme of Paul, is it not? “That I may not labor in vain,” he says somewhere else. “There’s only one who wins the prize in the end.” He says, “I want to run in such a way that I win the prize, and I want you to do so also. I don’t want to find on that day that, having preached to others, I myself become a castaway.”
Every so often, when you watch the commencement of a race, there is a false start. And the longer the race, the more the possibility is that the person has gone off a considerable distance before it becomes apparent that they are either so fast that they have left the field completely behind or they have missed something of import. It would be very strange for them to run the whole ten thousand meters, would it not? And what a tragedy to have done so, and finally to breast the tape, and somebody said, “You know, ten thousand meters ago there was a false start.” What joy would there be in that? What medal would there be in that? What sharing of rejoicing would there be in that? There would be absolutely none. There would only be the saddest of disappointment.
Paul says, “I’m looking forward to the day when, in heaven, even if my life gets poured out like a drink offering”—and that is an Old Testament picture, where they would pour out wine in the offering of a sacrifice—he says, “if my life is poured out in this way, mingling with your faith as it is lived out, it doesn’t matter, because, by and by, when I get to heaven and I have the privilege of seeing you around me there, then my joy will be a double joy. And I am glad, and I rejoice with all of you. And I want you, too, also, to be glad and to rejoice with me.”
“By and by,” says the hymn writer,
When I look on His face,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I’ll wish I had given Him more.
More, so much more—
More of my [life] than I [ever] gave before.
By and by when I look on His face,
I’ll wish I had given Him more.
I hope the name of John Brown is logged in your mind now, as a result of what we studied this morning, and I hope it is a stimulus to you. To say to yourself, “You know, I can do something like that. I may not be a great speaker, I may not be able to be articulate, hardly at all, but people will know if I care.” You can say to yourself, and say to the Lord on a regular basis, “Lord, my heaven will be like two heavens if there would just be one other person that meets me in heaven as a result of the fact that I had the privilege of doing what you encouraged me to do there, in that little section in Philippians 2. That all these present participles increasingly became a part of my life.” Doing everything without complaining and arguing. Becoming pure and blameless. Shining like a star in the universe. Holding forth the word of life. And rejoicing that God, in all of his immensity, would look down on the likes of me, on the likes of you and say, “There’s the man—there’s the woman—that I want to use.” And he does, you know.
Father, look upon us in your mercy and in your grace, even as you looked upon that lovely, rejoicing church in Philippi. Help us to be students of the Book, to be obedient to your truth, to be those kind of people that will shine as stars in the universe. Our minds are full with all kinds of stars—pop stars, movie stars, soccer stars. Most of us are never going to be such a star. And even if we have been, or become one, all of that stardom will pale to dimness before the immense privilege of holding forth the word of life and looking forward to rejoicing on the day that we stand before you. Teach us these things, Lord, as a church family—and as members of other church families—this weekend. Those of us who are visiting here, may it be that, as a result of looking at this little section, we will return to our own church fellowships more committed than ever to doing and becoming and shining and holding and rejoicing. For Jesus’ sake, we ask it, according to his immense and amazing love. Amen.
 Exodus 16:2 (NIV 1984).
 Exodus 16:3 (paraphrased).
 Exodus 16:7–9 (NIV 1984).
 1 Peter 4:9 (paraphrased).
 1 Thessalonians 2:10 (paraphrased).
 2 Timothy 2:20–21 (paraphrased).
 Philippians 2:15 (NIV 1984).
 Philippians 2:15 (NIV 1984).
 Psalm 119:105 (NIV 1984).
 Anita Grund Koch, “The Way, the Truth, the Life” (1967). Paraphrased.
 Galatians 2:2 (paraphrased).
 1 Corinthians 9:24, 27 (paraphrased).
 Grace Reese Adkins, “I’ll Wish I Had Given Him More” (1948).